What is in a counselling session and what to expect

A counselling session typically involves meeting with a licensed mental health professional to discuss personal issues or problems you may be experiencing. Here’s what is in a counselling session and what you can expect:

Amy Doyle

Amy Doyle

Holistic Counsellor

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a counselling session what to expect list

A counselling session can vary depending on the individual’s needs and their therapy goals. In general, a counselling session will involve 

  • Building a rapport
  • Exploring the issue/s 
  • Setting goals 
  • Developing strategies
  • Reflecting on progress.

Counselling sessions are typically confidential and the client sets the pace and direction of the therapy. The number and frequency of counselling sessions will differ from client to client based on their needs and desired outcomes from therapy.

What to expect from your first counselling session

Your first counselling session can be a little nerve-wracking, but it’s important to remember that the counsellor is there to support you and help you achieve your goals. Here are some things you can expect from your first counselling session:

Getting to know your counsellor:

Your counsellor will spend some time getting to know you, your life, your background, and your goals for therapy. They may ask you a number of questions about your life, relationships and mental health history.

Establishing goals:

You and your counsellor will work together to establish goals for the therapy. This could involve:

  • developing coping skills
  • improving relationships
  • managing symptoms of mental illness
  • achieving personal growth.

Discussing therapy approach:

Your counsellor may discuss their approach to therapy and explain how they plan to help you achieve your goals. This may also include any techniques or strategies they plan to use in your time together.


Your counsellor may ask you to reflect on your current situation and what changes you would like to see. They may also ask you to reflect on previous therapy experiences or any concerns you have about the therapy process.

4 things that may happen during a therapy session

1. Discussion of current issues

One of the primary activities that occur during a therapy session is the discussion of current issues or problems that the client is experiencing. This might involve:

  • exploring difficult emotions
  • discussing relationship challenges
  • addressing problematic behaviours or thought patterns.

2. Exploration of past experiences

In many cases, past experiences can shape our present-day struggles. During therapy sessions, a therapist may encourage the client to explore past experiences to better understand how they may be influencing current behaviour or emotions.

3. Development of coping skills

Therapy sessions often involve the development and practice of coping skills to help clients:

  • better manage difficult emotions
  • navigate challenging situations
  • address problematic behaviours.

This might involve practising mindfulness techniques, learning communication skills, or exploring cognitive restructuring strategies.

4. Goal setting and tracking progress

A key aspect of therapy is setting goals and tracking progress. Therapists may work with clients to identify specific objectives and establish a plan for achieving them. Throughout therapy sessions, progress toward these goals is monitored and evaluated, and adjustments may be made as needed.

what is in a counselling session

Example of Your First Counselling Session

So what does your first counselling session look like? 

  1. Discussing therapy approach
  2. Completing forms
  3. Getting to know each other
  4. Exploring the issue
  5. Setting goals
  6. Developing strategies
  7. Reflecting on the session
  8. Booking the following sessions

Discussing therapy approach:

There are benefits in completing these forms not only for your therapist but for you as well. It gives you a moment to reflect on your life history, support network, day-to-day habits and routines, previous therapy experience and therapy goals.

Completing forms

There are benefits in completing these forms not only for your therapist but for you as well. It gives you a moment to reflect on your life history, support network, day-to-day habits and routines, previous therapy experience and therapy goals.

Getting to know each other

Generally this will be the first time you’ve met each other unless you’ve met previously through group work, programs, discovery calls, etc.

The counsellor will typically spend some time going through your form with you and asking more questions so they can really get to know you and understand your desired outcomes and goals for therapy. 

In doing so, you get a chance to get to know your counsellor, build rapport with each other and begin establishing a relationship based on trust, safety and support.

Exploring the issue

When it comes to exploring the issue/s or obstacles of your desired goals, your counsellor is going to go a little deeper into your concerns and reasons for being there. They may ask open-ended questions to gather more information and help you both gain insight into your thoughts, feelings, behaviours and motivations.

Setting goals

The counsellor may also ask you more questions about your goals and intentions and what they really look like, so you are both clear on your intentions for your time together. Your goals may initially sound like developing coping skills, improving relationships, managing symptoms of mental illness, understanding yourself better or achieving personal growth. 

Your counsellor may ask questions about what that really looks like on a daily basis, how that changes your life as you know it, and what that gives you at a core level.

Developing strategies

Once your counsellor has a better understanding of your life, issue/s and goals, they will use their expertise to develop a plan and way forward. This could involve things like cognitive-behavioural techniques, mindfulness exercises, or a range of activities that can be evidence-based, creative expression, holistic, spiritual, etc. 

It really depends on the counsellor and their approach – which is why it’s important to take the time in choosing a counsellor that resonates with you and your values. 

Your counsellor may use one of these strategies in your first session or just discuss the next steps.

Reflecting on the session

Towards the end of the session, you may reflect on your time together and the plan forward to ensure you feel comfortable and supported in taking the next steps.

Booking the following sessions

At the end of the session, you will pay for your session unless you have paid upfront and generally make a booking for your next session/s if you are happy with the first one.

It’s important to know that the first session is generally about building rapport and internal resourcing so that you can continue through the next steps. Getting to the heart of an issue and finding a true resolution within will likely take more than 60 minutes with your counsellor. 

Not to say that it can’t happen, as sometimes a counsellor will be able to

  • give you the one bit of information that can bring everything together for you
  • offer a lightbulb moment in perspective
  • light a spark that can take you on your own adventure.

However, the therapeutic relationship over time is something that can be deeply healing just in itself and also offers consistency and structure to creating the changes you desire to see within your world.  

Typically the number and frequency of sessions will depend on your needs and goals and should also consider your budget, time constraints and current support network. Your counsellor may also have a certain approach as to what this looks like – it’s important to discuss this especially if you are not in agreement with the plan. This allows both parties to understand the needs and perspectives of the other and take them into consideration. 

Personally, I believe that you know what is best for you. I have clients that choose to see me regularly weekly, fortnightly or monthly because that is what they need and desire at the time. I have others who just have an ‘inner knowing’ of when they need a session and come more sporadically. Again it really depends on you and your intentions and needs.

Meet The Author

Amy Doyle

Amy Doyle

Amy is a Holistic Counsellor who helps her clients move from this idea that they are broken or missing pieces of their own puzzle, to owning their story, claiming back all parts of themselves and merging together as one team to allow them to rest and be in their deepest expression.

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